(I think this might be my longest recap ever…trying to recount 3 runs in one recap is tough! Proceed with patience)
To say that running a Ragnar Relay is an adventure is an understatement. It was the most epic display of teamwork I’ve ever seen. Yes it was quite the adventure, but it was the capacity to work together that really blew my mind. 12 people putting each other’s needs over their own is almost unprecedented in my experience. But that’s exactly what happened. A group of women who mostly didn’t know each other came together to cover an insane amount of miles on some tough terrain, all the while forgoing sleep, showers, hot food and other creature comforts. Yep, that’s a Ragnar Relay in a nutshell and here is my experience.
Backing up a bit, I was invited as guest of my friend Abbie who had entered a contest to win an entry into Ragnar Adirondacks via Another Mother Runner. Each contest winner chose a guest and as a stroke of luck, another friend Heather also won and was able to choose a guest. I had always avoided Ragnar due to the expense and the extensive planning: seriously, so much planning is required! With the way this contest worked, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about those things so I quickly said “yes” to the offer. Also, I’d always wanted to explore the Adirondacks and what better way to do so then via foot. So the 4 of us began planning our adventure several months ago and knew we’d be uniting with 4 others who had also won and invited their own guests. Quickly a Facebook group came together and our group of 12 began planning our epic trip to Upstate NY. An important part of joining this team meant being a good teammate. As our team Captain Alison would go on to say before we started, “put the needs of your teammates above your own and it’ll all work out.” That component initially scared me but I dutifully participated in the planning where I could and worked on getting in shape. The more I committed, the more excited I got.
I really don’t think I gave much thought into how much goes in to planning a Ragnar Relay. Our team was so lucky to have Alison as our Captain. To say she is detail oriented is an understatement and I’m fairly convinced that without her, this endeavor would’ve never gotten off the ground. My job was to show up, follow directions and run my ass off. Because of the time, energy, and talent of Alison, I didn’t have to worry about any of the logistics (and there are many!)
Our weekend started on Thursday morning as Beth, Heather, Abbie and I loaded into Abbie’s minivan (aka “The Pleasure Barge”) for our 8-9ish hour trip to NY. Everything went smoothly and we arrived at our amazing vacation house (seriously, this place was gorgeous) right on time. An easy but delicious communal dinner was prepared with each person contributing to the feast and we set about getting to know each other. After dinner was a quick ice breaker followed by a lengthy discussion of logistics.
Heading to the start line- 5am! The breakdown behind Ragnar is 12 people divided into 2 vans with each individual running 1 leg until all runners in Van 1 have run, the relay is then passed onto Van 2, and then back and forth until each person has completed 3 legs total. This allows several hours of recovery between each leg which is both necessary but difficult. I was in van 1 with the rest of the NE Ohio women as well as Alison and her guest Katrina.
Our first leg began at 7:15 am Friday morning, with me taking the spot of number 1 runner for each set of legs. We left our house at about 5am to make the one hour drive to the start giving us enough time to pick up our bibs, complete our mandatory safety training (basically you must wear lights and reflective vests whether you are running or not between the hours of 6:15pm and 7:15am. Oh and don’t poop in anyone’s yard ever) and use the bathroom 12 times. It was a crisp morning, though it was clear that it was going to be a hot one. My first leg was 5.3 miles, rated moderate. Because of the wave start typical of Ragnar, my grouping had only about 15 people. We counted back from 10 and took off with a lot of fanfare from all of teams lined up to cheer their runners on. My leg started with exiting the state park where we began and then heading out on some winding, hilly roads. I spread out from the other runners and quickly was alone. My leg went by smoothly and I looked forward to my van passing and crewing me at several exchanges-their cheering (literally all day and night) was probably about the best part of the whole thing! I literally looked up as they passed me with loud cowbells and thought “I love these ladies!” I felt like I was flying (and ultimately average about a 9 minute pace for this leg-hella fast for me! I passed (“killed” in Ragnar parlance) several runners on my way to the exchange to runner number 2. I was really excited to see my crew at the exchange and I placed the slap bracelet on Alison’s wrist (actually it was a bit clumsier than that) to begin leg 2 and we were back off in the van to crew her and get to the next exchange. This was pretty much the pattern of the event-run, drive, cheer, support, exchange. There was actually very little down time which really surprised me as my experience during Burning River (the only other relay I’ve done) was a ton of hurry up and wait. Not at all during Ragnar-other than when van 2 was running, we were constantly going from one place to the next. It also helped that Alison had calculated down to the minute when each person would arrive at the next exchange. We quickly banked some time but with her organization, we stayed on top of the complicated pacing for the entire time. I really had no idea what to expect and I think that to a degree, the only way to really understand how to do a relay is to just do it.
Around 12pm-ish, we met up at our first major van exchange and it was now time for van number 2 to take over to run the first of their legs.
Van 2 getting ready for their first set of legs I gratefully hopped back in the car and headed back to our home which was nearby. We arrived to a freshly made lunch of homemade soup, courtesy of our ad hoc “house mom” Terri (mom of van 2 runner Annamarie) who had so graciously agreed to come along on the weekend to help support us. The sense of care taking from Terri was much appreciated and welcomed. I basked in the all too brief down time with a quick shower, an abandoned attempt at a nap and lots of food. By the way, this sort of thing is not typical during Ragnar-you usually don’t have the opportunity to go home, shower and change, but once again Alison planned it down to every last detail. We left for our second legs mid afternoon and headed to the beach at Lake George which was beautiful in the afternoon sun.
By the time we arrived, van 2 had expanded our time cushion by an additional 40 minutes which meant that all legs would start much earlier than anticipated which had the added benefit of delaying my night run by one leg. Van 2’s last runner came flying in hot and exchanged the slap bracelet with me and I took off along the lake with the mountains in the distance. I paired up briefly with another runner also named Sara. We happened to be waiting for our runners to come in the exchange at the same time and noticed the large group of people yelling out “go Sara,” so we joined up in Sara solidarity!
View from my second leg -really uglyWe survived a brief wrong turn but were able to right ourselves and head back on track (thankfully confirmed by Sara’s team which passed in their van.) Speaking of vans; the tradition at Ragnar is to rent a large van, paint it with clever sayings/puns/witticisms, “tag” other vans with team magnets and basically cheer people on while driving. It certainly added to the atmosphere and experience of each individual run. Plus the sheer amount of Ragnar vans was pretty astounding too. Back to run number 2, we continued to climb slowly up very manageable rolling hills as we moved parallel to the lake. There wasn’t much of shoulder and though I did have a few police escorts earlier in the day, the roads were completely open to cars during the entirety of the race. I passed these miles by looking at the surrounding scenery, houses and small towns as I ran. This was my shortest leg, clocking in at just over 4 miles and once again, it was over too soon. Just around 8.40 something pace.
The next few legs headed up some insane hills which the other girls mastered like bosses! Heather even had a leg aptly named “The Ragnar Leg” known for the steepest elevation in the entire race. She earned another medal for climbing up that bad boy!
Once all of our leg 2 runs were completed, we headed to Ticonderoga Middle School to meet our last runner and the team from van 2 who had just completed their own stretch of rest and food. Abbie came in after one of the longest legs (9 ish miles with at least .5 of those miles being run past a cemetery) around midnight and we set up camp in the middle school gym. For a small fee ($2) we could eat (cafeteria spaghetti which was not appealing whatsoever), shower and sleep at the school. I decided to forego food and a shower (naked poeple everywhere in a communal shower…no thank you), instead just changing into more dry clothes and laid down in the quiet and really hot gym. I couldn’t sleep as I was way to keyed up from the fact that my next run was coming up and that we had to stay on guard with the changing finishing times of van 2. Plus we had a 40 or so minute drive to the next exchange and the anxiety about making it in time permeated any attempts at sleep.
At 2:15am. our teams alarms started going off and we started to make our way through piles of sleeping bags back to the vans. My last and final leg started around 3:30am. It was my first night leg (though all of my team had completed theirs for the most part) and it consisted of very quiet, very dark country roads. The only traffic was passing Ragnar vans. There were some runners out there and though I did pass a few, I spent my last 5ish miles in solitude. It wasn’t entirely unwelcome but I did have to do a fair share of mental self talk to stay calm at the fact that I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me despite having some great hand held lights. Ragnar events mandate that each nighttime runner wear a vest, head lamp and tail lights both while running and when outside of the van. I could at times see others taillights in front of me which provided some comfort. The Ragnar course is marked with large blue sandwich boards with blinking lights but for the most part, it’s only the turns that are marked. I was hyper aware of the need to stay cognizant of the markings as it would have been so incredibly easy to miss one and get off course (and in fact had experienced a bit of that with leg 2.) Ragnar also has a great app with turn by turn directions which was comforting as well. You can also use the app to contact race command, notify them that you’re lost or have a lost team member. Thankfully, we didn’t have to do any of this.
My leg 3 was surprisingly hilly. It also didn’t help that I was exhausted after two hours of pseudo sleep. The first 2 miles were uphill the entire time which I failed to realize as I didn’t bother to check out the course profile. I also couldn’t exactly see the road ahead of me so I had no idea when the hill would crest. Turns out there really wasn’t ever a downhill stretch in this leg! And while it wasn’t really terribly steep, it really felt neverending and completely slowed me down. I caught a lot of runners walking on this stretch and bought myself a few “kills.” My team crewed me twice; once to give my an extra light and once for some water. Each time I was grateful to see them and excited to head to the exchange. As I made myself climb hard up the quiet roads, I suddenly saw the bright lights and heard the loud generators at the exchange. I had bittersweet emotions as my legs were over. I forced myself to stay in the moment and realize that although I was finished running, I still had at least 11 hours of crewing ahead of me. We once again started the process of getting each runner through their leg and worked through the night. The sun rose seemingly out of nowhere and soon our last runner finished her leg and it was time to pass it on to van 2.
As Abbie who was our last runner crossed into the exchange, our van came together to celebrate the surrealness of what we had accomplished coupled with the notion that it wasn’t quite over just yet. We finished marking off all of our legs on the van and headed for some clean clothes and eventually breakfast.
One of my favorite Ragnar traditions We slowly made our way to Lake Placid (indescribably beautiful) and into the finishers area. Projections were now that we had a few hours of waiting for our last runner to come in so I partook in some of the post race festivities of a massage, compression boots and some homemade lemonade.
Gorgeous Lake Placid
Passing time with Abbie and Katrina and our amazing new tattoosAs word made it to us that our last runner in our last leg was headed our way, the 2 vans joined together to meet her. As last runner Fonda made her way into the finisher chute, we built a tunnel around her and followed her lead as is tradition as we made our way to the mile 193 (they bill it as “200ish”) . The announcer called out “Team Another Mother Runner” and I just beamed with pride as 12 women, essentially strangers just two days before, crossed the finish line in unison after 31 hours and 36 minutes of running. To say I was on a runners high is a vast understatement! The feeling of completion brought both elation and a sense of “what now?” Alison had talked about the “Relay Bubble” effect and I can confirm it’s real! I knew it was time to walk away but I didn’t want it to be over. As psyched as I was to be done, I wanted more-totally the famous Ragnar effect!
Abbie, Alison, me, Heather, Katrina, Beth
Jenn, Carla, Keara, Jill, Annamarie, Fonda
Strangers turned friends ❤️
We slowly made our way back to the vans and after a few stops for coffee, chocolate and Kombucha, we made it back to our home. Showers and more food by Terri awaited. Our team spent the rest of the evening reminiscing, sharing stories from van 1 to van 2 and pictures. At about 8:30pm, I was done. After 36 hours without sleep, my day was over and I collapsed in bed with a sense of comfort that I wouldn’t have to wake up to run in two hours.
Sunday was filled with more bittersweet moments of saying goodbye, promises of reunions and the knowledge that we were going to leave the “relay bubble” for the realities of our daily lives soon. I savored the long trip home with Abbie, Heather and Beth.
On Friday in the middle of our first day, I thought to myself “there is no way I’ll ever do this again. I am too old and I like my comfortable life.” After all was said and done, I will absolutely do it again. There is no way I could anticipate how amazing this event would be but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. I know I’ll be back!